Why is Missy Elliot Headlining a Kpop Convention?

It makes perfect sense and no sense at all, depending on who you ask. This question has popped up a lot in the week since Missy’s appearance alongside Kpop star G-Dragon at KCON 2013 was formally announced. On the face of it, the answer is simple – Missy has a collaboration with G-Dragon that will be premiered live at the convention. But for most Americans, for whom Missy is a hip hop legend and Kpop is “that thing you call Gangnam style”, a quick primer on the genre is in order.

Korean pop is in some respects a cell-phone snapshot of 1990s – early 2000s American hip-hop that’s been run through an East-Asian photo booth app.  Chairman Lee Soo Man, the chairman of Kpop megalabel SM Entertainment, cites Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” as his foundational inspiration in the genesis of his Kpop band-building career. In a concentrated industry with three major labels (and a chairman – not like a Frank Sinatra chairman but like an actual chairman), these influences are pervasive. Most hits are reminiscent of some era or artist in American Urban Contemporary:


In keeping with the Bobby Brown roots, Korea has been extending the olive branch to (less PC: “snatching up”) American producers famous for new jack swing (think Beyonce’s Love on Top) and classic hip-hop such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Kanye West and Timbaland. The Timbaland sound (as well as his American hits) is big across the Pacific and can be heard even when Timbaland isn’t involved. Compare these side by side:

The Wikipedians in the room who noticed the b-boy style of the above Hyuna video may find it peculiar coming from a country with a black population so low that no supporting statistic appears to be available online. Korea’s relationship with black culture is a complex one and a whole ball of wax worthy of a thesis (although I found a pretty informative blog post on the matter). And to be fair, we let Elvis and the Rolling Stones get away with the same shtick 50 years ago.

We Americans may be jealous that Missy is performing at a niche international music convention when we haven’t even seen a website update from her since November 2012. But if all goes well, Missy’s new collaboration with G-Dragon could be the next big audio ambassador between two major music nations and help us realize just how much we have in common.

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